Why Germans mustn’t say the Brits should stay in the EU

Biculturalism and complexities of Brexit

Comment from the Chairman, German British Forum

This article and others that discuss Brexit are also published by the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF) here:

Bob Bischof-web1As a German living in the UK for 40 years, I would like the British – for all kinds of political and cultural reasons – to stay in the European Union. With my English hat on, it’s a bit less clear cut. To understand the British psyche, you need a touch of bicultural enlightenment.

The more European or German politicians do or say to convince the Brits to remain in the EU, the more British Eurosceptics will say the Europeans are acting for their own advantage. A real conundrum ahead of the referendum.

Political fine-tuning is needed. Non-British Europeans must find the right tone.

Sentimentality and emotion are neither suitable nor desirable. The Anglos always were from Mars, the Europeans from Venus. Confusingly, that’s even the case these days for the Germans.

There are many reasons why the British may prefer an exit. This island paradise is already overpopulated and, in most British eyes, is subject to too much foreign influence.

After the 1990s EU membership widening, largely promoted by Britain, new immigrants from central and eastern Europe were welcome, especially Polish plumbers during the pre-2009 recession housing boom.

In post-downturn austerity Britain, migrants became less popular. Populist UK politicians blamed high inflows on EU membership. Europe’s latest disarray over the refugee crisis has further hardened the UK immigration rhetoric.

Germany may be able to cope and eventually integrate these people, bolstering its workforce.  The rest of Europe, including Britain, is struggling. Britain doesn’t and never will have the infrastructure to cope with large-scale immigration. Having identity cards and knowing and determining where people live and how many are in the country does help a bit.

However, structures and regulations are alien to the British: another strong reason for EU antipathy. Unsurprisingly the UK displays huge opposition to Brussels regulation, lots of it of course unnecessary.

Thomas Kielinger, correspondent for Die Welt, has showcased this splendidly in his book Crossroads and Roundabouts. Everything in the UK is constantly in flux. Self-reliance and self-regulation are more important than rule by the authorities. The Germans like regulation; they stand patiently at a road crossing and wait for green to cross – whether cars are coming or not. All part of culture and love of Ordnungspolitik.

In UK business, labour flexibility is the name of the game. Employment laws don’t fit easily into Britain’s adversarial culture, yet they are the norm for consensus-minded Germans. Fear of Brussels  surely explains why the UK press, much of it foreign-owned, is mostly Eurosceptic. Proprietors must feel that, sooner or later, the heavy hand of the Eurocrats will enforce ownership curbs.

As papers like The Sun and Daily Mail show, exit supporters have short, simple, seductive messages:

A lot of it sounds pretty convincing to readers, who read headlines on the front pages and turn to the sports pages for a proper read.

“We want our country back from unelected overpaid bureaucrats in Brussels.

Outside the euro, Britain has little influence over European decision-making – so it’s best to leave altogether.

The Europeans export more to us than we to them – so it’s all helping them not us.

When it matters, Britain has to follow America, a product of language and history. You can’t trust the Europeans.

Brussels is plotting to break the City’s European supremacy. The Germans want to rule Europe all over again. The French will help them run the show.

Much depends on how Europe portrays itself in the months up to voting day. Some positive news from the euro area would take the wind out of No campaigners’ sails. But if the immigration problem gets worse, which is more likely, then many Brits will want to shut off the Channel tunnel for good. I will not exactly applaud as they slam the door. But I will understand why they are doing it – and a small part of my bicultural soul might even agree.

Bob Bischof is chairman of the German-British Forum and vice president of the German-British Chamber of Industry and Commerce. The two organisations and OMFIF are staging a conference in London on 3 March on the political, security, business and economic implications of a British EU exit. [CLICK FOR LINK] This is based on a speech at the Kapitalmarkt Forum of Commerzbank AG in Hamburg.  Lesen Sie diese auf Deutsch

By Bob Bischof, Advisory Board